The first test was like so many of the warm up games in that the Lions created chances but then didn’t have the finesse to finish them off. They took only two out of four try scoring chances whereas the All Blacks had three and finished three. Therein lies the difference and what has set this New Zealand apart from the distantly chasing pack for the last six years. Good teams create chances, great teams finish them and if the Lions are to stand any chance in the next test they will need to hone their cutting edge this week.
The squad does not require wholesale changes and I would just tweak the forwards to give the Lions the best chance of getting on the front foot from the start against the All Blacks. Below is the team I would send out in the second test (changes in bold)
British and Irish Lions: L Williams (Wales); A Watson (England), J Davies (Wales), B Te’o (England), E Daly (England); O Farrell (England), C Murray (Ireland); M Vunipola (England), J George (England), T Furlong (Ireland); M Itoje (England), C Lawes (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), S O’Brien (capt, Ireland), T Faletau (Wales)
Replacements: K Owens (Wales), J McGrath (Ireland), K Sinckler (England), G Kruis (England); S Warburton (Wales), R Webb (Wales), J Sexton (Ireland), L Halfpenny (Wales).
In the lead up to the test all the talk had been about how the Lions strengths were their forwards and suffocating defence, but the All Blacks countered this by taking the Lions on at their supposed strength and dominated them around the fringes of the rucks.
The New Zealand pack were immense and I would call up Itoje, Lawes and Stander in an attempt to really take the game to the All Blacks pack in the first half.
The Lions pack were blown away by the intensity of Retallick, Kaino and Read, with Kruis and AWJ looking shell shocked after the opening quarter. I’d pick Stander to replace Murray so that the Lions would have another world class ball carrier to support Faletau.
Without O’Mahony you would lose his work in the rucks but the inclusion of Itoje and Lawes, both players who can cover the back row, would negate this loss.
Taking out Kruis and O’Mahony would mean replacing the lineout caller and captain. Itoje may be young but has a proven big game temperament from Saracens and England, and could be trusted with calling the lineout, especially with his club mate George throwing in. The captaincy would be a bigger question but O’Brien could comfortably step up to the responsibility as he has done for Ireland on numerous occasions. Farrell has been touted as a potential captain but I don’t think that he needs the distraction as he already has the pressure of goalkicking duties.
Personally I would not change any of the backs either starting or on the bench. My only suggestion would be a change in tactics late on. The Sexton-Farrell combination did not work in the first half and in my opinion shouldn’t be revisited. Having a versatile back three gives Gatland options with his substitutions, which could change depending on the scoreline. If the Lions are winning he could do a straight swap of any of the back three and bring on Halfpenny at full back to close the game out. If the Lions are chasing the game he could take off one of the centres, move Daly to outside centre (arguably his best position), and throw Halfpenny on at full back with Williams switching to the wing. Daly’s pace would offer a different option in midfield which may be necessary if the Lions find themselves chasing the game.
Please comment below with your thoughts. I’d love any feedback.